Allrounder Victor Lafay has claimed Cofidis’ first win in the Giro d’Italia in 11 years, ending a drought on victories in Italy’s Grand Tour for the longstanding French squad since Damien Monier clinched a solo uphill triumph way back in 2010.
However, while Monier’s win, also from a day-long break, came at the summit of the Peio Terme in the eastern Alps, Lafay’s victory on Saturday was on the short, punchy ascent of Guardia Sanframondi deep in southern Italy.
Lafay is also one of the few winners of an Etape du Tour - in his case finishing on Le Grand Bornand in the Alps in 2018 - who have gone on to win a stage in a Grand Tour.
“The Etape victory came shortly before I turned pro,” Lafay said. “I had been training for the Under-23 European Championships when I placed second,” behind a certain Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates), “and as the Etape that year happened near where I live, I decided to take part.”
Be it the Alps in the Etape du Tour or the foothills of the Abruzze mountains like on Saturday, Lafay seemed equally up to the task, launching a late move at Guardia Sanframondi to shoot past early-attacker Giovanni Carboni (Bardiani-CSF-Fanziane) halfway up stage 8’s final ascent.
Italian veteran Francesco Gavazzi (Eolo-Kometa) launched an impressive late charge that allowed him to become Lafay’s closest pursuer on the line, but he was still unable to come closer than 36 seconds of the Frenchman.
“You had to be sure you recovered well for the last climb,” Lafay said when asked to explain how he had succeeded in taking his debut pro victory.
“There were some early attacks but I was very careful not to let the other strong riders go too far. When it got to three kilometres from the line I attacked from out of what was left of the break and went for it alone, and I managed my strength very well.”
Lafay’s debut professional success also came after a very difficult spring in which he crashed heavily and was concussed in the Faun-Ardeche Classic in late February. A second place in the toughest stage of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, where he battled it out with Enric Mas (Movistar), confirmed he was on the right track.
“I don’t usually suffer from it so much, but I sometimes have to go more slowly downhill on the corners, as you could see today,” Lafay said. “I think in a few months all the effects will have disappeared completely.”
Most of Cofidis' focus on potential victories in this year’s Giro centres on the sprinter Elia Viviani, and Lafay said he had to work for the Italian in Friday’s flat stage to Termoli. But, he said, Viviani’s presence in the Giro had definite benefits for the rest of the team in other stages.
“He gets most of the pressure, so the rest of us are freer to do what we can. And maybe I won today because we can do everything we want to in the Giro's climbing stages. And if that’s so, it's thanks to him.”
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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